Navigating dementia can be an emotional and difficult journey, both for those living with the condition as well as their family and friends. Connecting with a loved one with dementia requires patience and understanding, as well as knowledge of what to expect as the disease progresses.
A quick Google search for “senior living near me” may result in several communities, but none as well positioned to help you and your loved ones navigate dementia as we are at Oakleigh of Macomb. We understand the importance of fostering strong connections with our residents, especially those living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Caring for our seniors is at the heart of what we do, and we believe that maintaining meaningful relationships is crucial for their well-being. As dementia progresses, a person’s ability to communicate gradually changes. If you have a loved one with dementia, here are some ideas to help you better connect with them:
#1.) Listen actively.
Changes in communication among those living with dementia depend on the individual person and what stage of disease progression they are in. However, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, some communication challenges you can expect to see over time include difficulty finding the right word, describing objects rather than naming them, and difficulty organizing words logically, among others.
Pay close attention to their words, emotions, and gestures. Even if their words seem nonsensical or they are struggling to complete a thought, listen with empathy. Responding to their feelings rather than the content of their speech can help them feel valued and heard. It’s also important not to criticize or correct mistakes. Instead, celebrate small victories when conversations go well.
#2.) Keep it simple.
For your best chance at success, engage with the person one-on-one in a distraction-free environment. Speak slowly and clearly, maintaining eye contact and allowing plenty of time for them to respond. Overall, simplify communication as much as possible.
For example, ask “yes or no” questions rather than open-ended, and offer step-by-step instructions for tasks. Use visual cues when necessary, such as demonstrating the word or ask you are trying to convey. Written notes can be helpful if gestures and other visual cues aren’t working.
#3.) Use non-verbal communication.
Seniors living with dementia may struggle with verbal communication, so non-verbal cues like facial expressions, gestures, and touch can be incredibly effective in conveying your love and understanding.
Be mindful of your body language, making sure it is clear you are focused on and listening to them. Use a soft tone and be careful not to appear agitated or come off harshly if communication becomes difficult. While it is important to respect their personal space, sometimes a gentle, reassuring touch can go a long way.
#4.) Create a familiar environment.
When visiting your loved one, bring items from their past, such as family photos, favorite music, or cherished possessions. These familiar items can trigger memories and create a sense of comfort.
Bringing a scrapbook is a perfect way to create familiarity as well as bond with your loved one over memories. If you don’t already have a family scrapbook, this can be a fun project to build with your loved one over time, creating a cherished family heirloom in the process.
#4.) Engage in activities together.
Participate in activities they enjoy or used to enjoy, like painting, gardening, or going for a walk. These activities can provide a sense of purpose and connection. Some activities can also help trigger familiar memories, such as re-reading a favorite book of theirs out loud.
In the earlier stages of dementia, it may be easier to introduce and explore new hobbies that they can then use as a creative outlet. As winter approaches, there are plenty of cozy indoor activities to keep seniors engaged.
#5.) Establish a routine.
People with dementia often find comfort in routines. Create a consistent schedule for visits, meals, and activities to provide a sense of predictability and stability. Having a plan will allow you to spend less time (and stress) figuring out what to do in the moment, and more time to focus on connecting over meaningful activities.
Before making a daily care plan, consider the person’s abilities and interests and how they used to structure their day. This will provide a framework to offer familiarity, allowing you to adjust based on what times of day they function best or need to rest. Remember to be flexible and allow plenty of time for meals, bathing, dressing, and any unexpected changes or interruptions.
#6.) Be patient.
Remember that dementia may cause confusion, agitation, or repetitive behavior. Be patient and compassionate, even during challenging moments in the later stages, to maintain a positive connection.
It’s important not to talk down to a person with dementia or speak as if they are not there. Even if verbal communication is a challenge, emotions can be more easily understood, and they will remember how you make them feel.
Because of this, it’s important to be patient, go slowly, and enjoy your time. Meeting them where they are at, rather than focusing on abilities that have changed or diminished, will set the foundation for a better experience for everyone.
#7.) Celebrate achievements.
The rate at which dementia progresses depends on a number of factors. It’s possible advancements may happen later in one senior than another, or that certain abilities may be lost sooner. Remain flexible and understanding about the possibilities to come, but enjoy the present moment for what it is.
Recognize and celebrate small achievements and milestones together, no matter how minor they may seem. This positive reinforcement can boost their self-esteem and strengthen your connection with them by demonstrating your support as their journey progresses.
#8.) Join support groups.
Navigating dementia can be emotionally challenging for those living with the disease as well as their caregivers. Joining a support group for families and caregivers of those living with dementia can provide valuable insights, emotional support, and strategies for connecting with your loved one.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers a wide array of online and local support resources for those living with dementia as well as their caregivers.
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By implementing these eight ideas, you can create a stronger and more meaningful connection with your loved one who has dementia. Remember that each person’s journey with dementia is unique, and the key is to adapt and evolve your approach as needed.
Oakleigh of Macomb is here to support you in every step of your caregiving journey. If you find yourself searching “senior living near me” while exploring options for your loved one with dementia, consider Oakleigh. Our vibrant senior living community specializes in assisted living and memory care.
We understand the unique needs of seniors living with dementia and are dedicated to providing a nurturing and engaging environment where residents can thrive. We invite you to visit our community to learn more about how we can assist your loved one and help you build a closer bond during their senior years.